From infancy, Morgan Weistling’s mother knew he was destined for a career in art. “She loves to tell the story of when I was a baby.” Weistling writes, “She would place me on the couch that had a large painting over it. I would supposedly just get quiet and stare at it. I remember the painting, actually, and it bothered me. The perspective seemed to be off and the vanishing points didn’t all rest on the horizon line. Eventually it would make me cry that I couldn’t yet fix it. I was determined to be an artist so that someday I could fix that painting. I guess my love of art was born from frustration.”
One toddler’s frustration is the art world’s triumph. Today, Weistling is well known throughout the country for his gorgeous figurative works and, in particular, his mastery of light. “The number one thing I use to glue everything together is lighting,” he says. “No matter what, nothing can make or break an idea more than how it’s lit. I am interested in designing light shapes. It is also how I control mood and tone.”
Weistling’s paintings are also known for their deep, revelatory narratives, which are available only after a relationship is cultivated with the work. The artist suggests, “Ultimately, we create images that are supposed to hang on a person’s wall and it will be seen every day. I think about that. I hide sub-stories within my paintings to be discovered over time. Everything has a backstory and can be slowly digested as one lives with it. When I talk to collectors, I’m always reminded of how the painting wasn’t really finished until it was brought home and the collector added their lives to it.”
Indeed, this “surrendering” of the painting forms a part of Weistling’s creative process. “I always tell people, I don’t finish paintings, I surrender them,” he says. “That word describes it completely. It’s rare when I don’t have a deadline waiting for a painting.” The remaining aspects of Weistling’s creative process are less predictable than deadlines. He continues, “My process is complicated due to the fact that I create my paintings to fit a specific time period. In some ways I work backward towards inspiration. Though ultimately I am simply interpreting the form I see in relation to the light, a lot of preliminary work takes place in terms of research of my subject, costuming, model choice, and most importantly, storytelling. It’s like I have to first step into my time machine and travel to another world. Once those things are decided upon and implemented, the easy part is painting.”
Weistling isn’t exaggerating, either, and his description of “The Country Schoolhouse” reveals just how far the artist is willing to go to capture his artistic prize. “It started with little idea sketches as I was waiting in a car line to pick up my daughter from school,” he says. “Those idea sketches get drawn over and over again, using my old skills as an illustrator. I think about every possible angle and type of lens it would be if I were shooting it like a movie. I travelled and researched restored schoolhouses, and read a lot, too. When I had it somewhat decided, I began looking for models. In this case, I approached many parents and pleaded my case. I built a version of a schoolhouse in my studio, with desks and all, so that I could simulate the lighting and reactions while the models posed together.
In addition to the lovely narratives in Weistling’s pictures, the surfaces have a vibrancy and life of their own — an element that the artist is especially attracted to. Weistling writes, “Paint texture is really important to me personally as an artist. I feel bored unless the painting has that third dimension of pleasing paint variety on the canvas. If a painting is too slick or perfectly smooth, I am bored. I am excited by a contrast of thick with thin, transparent with opaque, and texture with raw canvas. There is some perfect balance I feel I am constantly chasing. Once in a blue moon I get close. But most of the time it seems elusive.”
To learn more, visit Morgan Weistling.
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